By Juliet Farmer
The Paragary Restaurant Group might be known for their Italian interpretations, but where they really excel, IMO, is with Mexican food. For over 15 years, Centro Cocina Mexicana has been representing the Paragary family with outstanding Mexican food in midtown.
I’ve been visiting Centro for years (back when the décor was clutter-biker-chic), and in all these years, the food has remained consistently delicious. And thankfully so, because whenever I’m in the mood for chips and salsa, fish tacos, or chicken tamales, I head to Centro Cocina Mexicana.
After a lengthy hiatus (for no reason other than a busy schedule on my part), my husband and I took our recent Mexican food craving to Centro, where we first marveled at the beautiful interior transformation. Gone was the clutter and tchotchke, in is the twinkly stars hanging from the ceiling, the updated color scheme, and the clear front windows offering views of the patio and nearby park.
We started with obligatory beers (Pacifico) and Centro’s complimentary chips and salsa. When our server brought out only one kind of salsa (green), I asked about its companion red salsa that used to be included with chips, and was told it’s off the menu but still available. (Tip: Ask for it, because it’s good!). We also ordered a small guacamole. Centro’s chips are always crisp, lightly salty and not at all greasy. The green salsa is zesty, while the red salsa is tangy and slightly spicy. My best bites were chip dipped in guacamole, followed by a dunk in red salsa then a quick dip in green salsa.
On this visit, my husband and I were both in the mood for fish tacos, and with Centro’s Tacos y Burritos combo, we were given the choice of one taco and one burrito, two tacos, or two burritos. (All combos are served with rice and choice of vegetarian whole black beans, refried black beans, or whole pinto beans.) My husband went with the fish taco (the fish of the day was tilapia) and a carnitas burrito. I really wanted a fish taco, but I also wanted my favorite Centro menu item, a chicken tamale. So, I simply asked, and, since the kitchen was slow, our server was fabulous, and the stars were aligned, I got a fish taco and chicken tamale combo. (Lesson: All you have to do is ask, and you just might be surprised.)
The fish was marinated in achiote and topped with Habanero salsa, shredded cabbage and radish, all stuffed in a fresh corn tortilla. It was delicious. My husband’s carnitas burrito, full of crispy pork, onion, cilantro, and tomatillo-chile de arbol salsa, was perfectly cooked and spiced. My chicken tamale, full of seasoned shredded chicken, wrapped in fresh masa, and topped with tomatillo sauce, did not disappoint. (My mouth is watering just thinking about it.) We both opted for the vegetarian whole black beans, which are tasty. Even make the steamed white rice tastes delicious!
I can never show chips and salsa restraint at Centro, so by the time dessert rolls around I’m too full to partake, but they do offer desserts, such as flan, flambé plantains, Mexican chocolate cake, and an ice cream sundae. Maybe one of these days I’ll save some room and try one.
Centro offers fresh, tasty Mexican food, with highlights including chips and salsa, chicken tamales, and fish tacos.
Centro Cocina Mexicana
2730 J Street
Sacramento, CA 95816
Hours: Mon to Tues 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m., Wed to Thurs 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Fri 11:30 a.m. – 11
p.m., Sat 12 p.m. – 11 p.m., Sun 4 p.m. – 9 p.m.